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The Providence of God

by Thomas Thornhill

Anyone who studies the Bible carefully comes face to face with the providence of God. His hand is seen in events that unfold throughout the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation. If one really believes the Bible one will also believe in the providence of God. Yet, many who see God's hand in past events will deny that God is still active in the affairs of His universe and His people. The problem is that God's providence has been cast into mysterious and unexplainable terms, resulting in many unwarranted and false claims of special divine providence. Admittedly it is not easy to understand how God does what he does but does one really need to know how God does something in order for it to be accepted and believed. God may be invisible to us, but He certainly is not inactive. He has not ceased to provide for that which He has created.

What is Meant by the Providence of God?

One of the difficulties encountered in understanding the providence of God is that the word "providence" appears only one time in the scriptures Acts 24:2, and is not used in reference to God's providence, but man's. The Biblical use of the word in reference to God is not present, but the doctrine of "divine providence" is very real in the scriptures.

The word "providence" is defined in the dictionary as "the care or benevolent guidance of God." The English word comes from the Latin, "providere" which in turn is made up of two words, "pro" (before) and "videre" (to see), thus "to foresee." The corresponding Greek word is "pronoia" (forethought). Thus, the idea "to see before," which expresses the idea of foresight and forethought, implies a future end or goal with a definite purpose and plan for sustaining that end. In exercising forethought and foresight, God created a universe that He could control for His own purpose. God's control cannot be denied, "For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist" (Colossians 1:16-17). Paul declared to the Athenians, "God who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth ... gives to all life, breath and all things. And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and bounds of their habitation ... for in Him we live, and move and have our being" (Acts 17:24-28). How can one believe in the God Paul proclaimed on that day and deny His providential care today?

When Is It the Providence of God?

People talk much about the providence of God, generally with a misunderstanding of what they are talking about. One talks about being delivered from some serious accident by "the providence of God." How does one know? Another says "I was providentially hindered" from doing something. Can one be sure that God caused the thing to happen? People need to be careful in attributing to God that which cannot be proved. Mordecai would not affirm God's providence in making Esther queen of Persia, rather he said, "Yet, who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?" (Esther 4:14). Paul did not know that the escape and ultimate conversion of Onesimus was caused by the hand of God. He wrote, "For perhaps he departed for a while for this purpose, that you might receive him forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother" (Philemon 15, 16).

In reality, no one can speak with certainty about when God exercises His providence, unless it is so stated. The KNOWN providence of God is recorded as past events. When did Joseph know that God had a hand in the things that happened in his life? It was years later, after being reconciled to his brothers that Joseph said, "So now it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He ... has made me Lord of Egypt" (Genesis 45:8-9). He even understood that God's providence in his life was not for him alone. "But as for me, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day to save many people alive" (Genesis 50:20).

Another problem encountered in a study of providence is the thinking of some that God can only exercise His providence through miracles. Since the age of miracles has now ceased, they assume that God's providential care has also ceased. In so doing they limit God's exercise of care and guidance to the past ages. They seem to liken God to a computer programmer, who after setting the program steps back and lets everything run without any further control. So, God after setting things in motion does nothing else for man today.

This is not the God I worship. While it is true that God sometimes used miracles to accomplish His will, on other occasions He used natural means, often unseen by man, to bring about His purpose. We must keep in mind that both the natural and the miraculous are under the control of the Creator. God, by a miracle, created the universe, and then established natural laws by which it would continue. Both are expressions of His will. Both employ a supernatural source.

"Providence employs a supernatural source via a natural means, while a miracle used both a supernatural source and a supernatural means" (Flavil Yeakley Jr.).

"Providence is the working of God through His provision in the natural and spiritual realms, and yet it is a control that violates neither the sovereignty of the human will nor the divine natural and spiritual laws" (Homer Hailey).

People need to recognize their inability to know when and how God directs the affairs of this world. Just accept the fact that He does, even if one never knows HOW He does it. "For I considered all this in my heart, so that I could declare it all; that the righteous and the wise and their works are in the hand of God" (Ecclesiastes 9:1). My conclusion in this article is that while the supernatural means have ceased, the supernatural source in ways unseen by human eyes, continues to control His universe and His people today.